The budget was the elephant in the room at the Mountain View School Board meeting on May 6th. Members had been stroking its trunk, tail and enormous bulk for a couple of months already, so discussion was somewhat muted when it came to a vote. With a truncated board of only 5 and most of the administration absent, the remaining vote was unanimous to present a proposed budget to the taxpayers that calls for expenditures totaling $22.1 million for the fiscal year that will begin July 1.
Business Manager Thomas Witiak presented the final preliminary figures that call for a property tax rate increase of 1.1 mills to 42.5979, equal to the "index" defined by the state of 2.7% (the maximum allowed without a referendum). Even that wasn't enough to balance the budget: with income estimated at $20.5 million, the accumulated fund balance of $1.6 million would be "wiped clean" said Mr. Witiak. The fund balance (accumulated budget surpluses) totaled $2.4 million at the end of the last fiscal year (June 2018). Mr. Witiak said that salaries and benefits, most of which is contractually obligated, accounts for a full 69% of budget expenditures, over $15 million.
Mr. Witiak said that a debt service "bulge" next year will require payments of almost $1.2 million (classified as "interfund transfers" in the budget). According to a survey by the Intermediate Unit, Mountain View pays more than other area school districts to subsidize charter schools, most of them "cyber" charter schools. Mountain View also spends more than most on special education, some $4 million next year, yet is in the middle of the pack by enrollment.
Asked if the budget could be further trimmed, Mr. Witiak didn't seem to think there was much to be gained there. Board President Jason Richmond wondered if the occupation tax rate could be boosted. Mr. Witiak explained that those rates are determined by the county assessment office; he said he would contact them to find out what could be done.
Mountain View may take in as much as $150,000 from natural gas royalties next year. The board had informally agreed that that money would be sequestered to be used for student-based activities. But Mr. Witiak could not find a way to account for it separately in a way that would protect it from other budgetary depredations, so it is included in the general fund; only capital reserves and debt service are excluded from access through the general fund. Some board members asked that the royalty money be used "last," and only then if really necessary. Nevertheless, Mr. Witiak made it clear that the gas royalty income was part of the income used to balance budget.
The Board accepted a number of routine personnel items, conference and field trip requests. They have also had a couple of executive sessions for "personnel matters," which solicitor Joseph Gaughan suggested not be elaborated.
The Board approved the usual annual request from Child Evangelism Fellowship that allows participating students to be excused for religious instruction.
And Policy Committee Chair Christine Plonski-Sezer read out the full text of a new policy covering "Social Media." Dr. Plonski-Sezer said that the draft was developed from similar policies at other school districts, and occupied her committee for some time. It attempts to regulate the use of the District's accounts on internet sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. (currently Mountain View maintains only a website and a Facebook account), and staff are strongly encouraged to carefully control the content on their own personal accounts on such platforms, particularly with respect to their association with the Mountain View School District.
A policy covering nepotism in employment was formally adopted with a slight change to allow relationships among the staff as long as no direct subordination is involved. Another policy covering dress and grooming was tabled for the time being.
Special Services Coordinator Stephanie Anuszewski, speaking for Superintendent Karen Voigt, reported the successful conclusion to the periodic audit of the District's program for gifted students. State auditors were so satisfied with their 2-day visit that they remarked on it at at least one other school district.
Board member Sondra Stine asked everyone to give a thought to a hostage incident 35 years ago to the day from that evening. With all of the enhanced security applied to the schools today, it is useful to remember that that incident was handled successfully in 4 hours without injury.
And finally, the public are invited to attend an event on May 14 on the opioid crisis under the rubric "Join the Fight."
District policies – including new ones – are available for review on the District's website. The new budget proposal should also be available soon.
The next meeting of the Mountain View School Board is scheduled for Monday, May 20, 2019 beginning at 7:00pm in the conference room in the Elementary School.
Mayor Randy Glover, Councilman Brad Krayeski, Councilwoman Valerie Senese and a representative of the Susquehanna County Soil and Water Conservation District examined the roads and ditches throughout the Borough this past month. Councilwoman Senese provided a lengthy report on the review of the roads and ditches at the Oakland Council's monthly meeting held on May 9th.
Councilwoman Senese reported every ditch and pipe in the borough needs work, unfortunately the Conservation District would not grant funds to pay for maintenance of the ditches, only repairs. Councilwoman Senese stated she spent the past two days at Dirt and Gravel Class to become certified so she would be able to apply for grant funding. She said there is one dirt road in the borough, River Street that she would be able to apply for a Dirt and Gravel Grant, and the rest of the roads would fall under the Low Volume Road Grant.
An important difference between roads being repaired by grant funds verses PennDOT, is funding can be used to fix problems on private property (with permission) that affect municipal property. Residents allowing these repairs would eliminate future issues with ditch and road erosion.
Councilwoman Senese stated engineers would be coming to Oakland from Penn State Extension for another tour of the roads and ditches. To obtain the grant funds Oakland Borough would have to put in a ten percent match, but in-kind services are allowed. Councilwoman Senese stated all the ditches need to be maintained and suggested implementing a Volunteer Committee for this project and other projects in the borough.
Council could seek qualified professionals to use the borough's equipment for maintenance on the ditches in a volunteer capacity. Councilwoman Senese stated it would help the borough financially and the volunteer hours would apply towards the in-kind services. Several people volunteered at the meeting to be on the committee. Valarie Senese, Gary Boughton, Doug Arthur, Mary Weaver, Brad Krayeski and Pat Gall were the first to volunteer. Council President Christina Deakin said criteria needed to be established on qualifications for the type of work the volunteers would do. Council discussed this for a few minutes and agreed to create applications and disclaimer paperwork.
During public comment Mary Weaver stated Third Avenue has a spot that opened up and its getting worse. Councilwoman Senese stated that was identified during the review of the roads and Penn State Extension is coming to look at it. She said it looks like a spring or something running under the road. Ms. Weaver said there is a well house at the back of her property and Councilwoman Senese asked if it was permissible for them to go on the property and Ms. Weaver gave her consent.
Wendy Dudley said she was concerned with the lack of order in meetings. She said previously Council followed the Roberts Rules of Order in which people directed the question to the Council President, who in turn answered or directed it to another Council member to answer. Ms. Dudley said by not following these rules it's discouraging people to open up. She said she felt good things were brought up but Council and members of the audience were speaking out of turn and discouraging other people from bringing their concerns to Council.
During the financial part of the meeting it was relayed to Council by President Deakin the Water Authority purchased the monitor for the computer and they would need to purchase another one. After a few moments of discussion, Carol Trevarthan stated she would purchase a new one as a donation to the borough. Council thanked her for her generosity.
Police Chief John Creamer reported, for the month of April Officers responded to sixteen calls. One of the calls reported tires were being dumped down the embankment behind a rental property on State Street. Chief Creamer stated the Fish and Boat Commission will be taking over the investigation since some of the tires were blocking the creek and some made it into the river.
A resident asked Chief Creamer if they could check out the corner of Boyden Street and Second Avenue. People are parking so close to the corner it's restricting the site view of oncoming traffic at the stop sign.
President Deakin reported the information she obtained from Penelec on changing the sodium vapor lights to LED. She said Penelec reported Oakland Borough has eighty-five poles and eighty-one lights and the information would need to be verified before they moved forward with the transition. President Deakin stated this is another situation where volunteers would also be needed. She said the current lights were under a twenty-year contract, but the LED would be on a ten-year contract.
Thompson Borough converted to LED and used a fifty-watt LED throughout the borough. President Deakin stated she drove through and felt it was a little too dark on the main streets. A discussion followed on the current wattage and the proposed wattage of LED lights and the cost for each. A few other questions came up regarding the contract and the warranty and President Deakin will contact the Penelec representative to obtain the answers.
A Capital Reserve Account and Act 13 Impact Fee bank accounts were approved to be opened. The Capital Reserve Account will start with a thousand dollars transferred from the general fund and monthly royalty payments will be deposited. The Impact Fee account will be opened when 2019 funds are received.
On Wednesday, May 8th Susquehanna Borough Council appointed Jason Larsen as the Emergency Management Coordinator (EMC) for the Borough. Council President Roy Williams was currently serving as the EMC, but elected to step down when the new requirements were announced. President Williams stated Mr. Larsen has experience and certifications in emergency management. Dan Vinsko is the Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator and will continue in the position.
Councilman Dana Rockwell questioned the invoice for streetlights asking if anything could be done to lower the cost. Councilwoman Barbara Larsen replied she looked into the streetlights and was informed Penelec would replace current bulbs to LED at no charge for any lights twenty years or older. She said Penelec would supply a spreadsheet listing each light in the Borough with the age but she didn't know if Council wanted her to pursue this. Council stated they would appreciate her gathering the information to bring back for review.
Invitation for Bid (IFB) is being prepared to send to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) for approval. The IFB is for fence, lighting and walking track at the Ira Reynolds Riverfront Park. The walking track will be six feet wide, except alongside the railroad tracks where that section will be ten feet wide. The material to be used for the walking track is Trails Surface Aggregate (TSA) that is designed to resist wear and erosion.
Councilwoman Sue Crawford stated she has seen people walking in the park area and was concerned for their safety. President Williams stated they have bright orange fencing with No Trespassing signs around the parameter and trespassing has still been an issue. Maintenance personnel and the police have been watching the area and telling people to leave and not to come back until the park is opened.
Code Enforcement Officer Butch Kelsey reported that for the month of April he issued twenty-seven Notice of Violations and four Citations. He received one building permit, three vacant home and eleven rental applications.
Activities Director Valerie Senese provided Council a report on activities she has been working on for the community. She reported they are ready to move forward on the following activities: bus trips to Tioga Downs and Sight and Sound Theater; Drug Awareness Group; National Night Out; Motorcycle Event; Music Under the Bridge and a Paint Class fundraiser. She will continue working on other ideas and report updates to Council.
The County Transcript offices will be closed Monday, May 27th for Memorial Day and will reopen Tuesday, May 28th at 8:00am.
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